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10 Alternative Fuels for Vehicles

If you operate a fleet, you’re most likely aware of the Government’s plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. Naturally, this has spiked an interest in alternative fuels for vehicles as fuel-dependent businesses look to go green, be informed and make the best decisions.

There’s an abundance of different alternative fuel sources for vehicles, including renewable energy sources – in fact, 1 in 10 cars registered in the UK in 2020 were alternative fuel vehicles compared to about 1 in 30 in 2019. So, how do you know which type of fuel you should go for? We’re here to help you make that decision. Read on to see the pros and cons of 10 alternative fuels for vehicles:

10 Alternative Fuel Sources for Vehicles

1. Battery Electric

Battery electric cars are already growing in popularity in the UK, and many commercial car parks have designated electric vehicle charging spots. Plus, electric fleets can enjoy the benefits of Chargemate cards.

Electric vehicles use a lithium-ion (li-ion) battery, which is rechargeable. This battery is connected to an electric motor (or motors) in the vehicle. When you drive, the battery powers the motor which then powers the wheels.

Pros:

  • No exhaust emissions: Although electricity is not always a renewable energy source for vehicles, by operating an electric vehicle you aren’t contributing to exhaust emissions. Plus, studies suggest that electric vehicles emit up to 30% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared with diesel and petrol vehicles.

  • Fuel savings: In 2020, DirectLine found that the cost of fuelling a petrol car is 58% more expensive than fuelling an electric car.

  • Lower maintenance costs: Typically, there are fewer moving parts in an electric vehicle compared to a vehicle running on petrol or diesel, so you’re less likely to run into mechanical trouble resulting in a hefty bill.

  • Government grants: The Government offers grants for many new electric vehicles, helping you to reduce initial costs.

Cons:

  • Charging: One of the most significant issues drivers have with electric vehicles is the time and planning that goes into charging them. Charging a battery electric vehicle can take a couple of hours, and this wait time can extend if your battery is older.
Black electric car plugged in and charging in a carpark.

2. Plug-in Hybrid

Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) use two sources of energy to power them. Batteries are used to power an electric motor and another fuel, typically petrol or diesel, is used to power an internal combustion engine.

As the name suggest, you plug in your vehicle to recharge the battery with electricity. Once the battery charge runs out, the additional fuel source will power your vehicle for the remainder of your journey.

Pros:

  • Reduced carbon emissions: PHEVs run, in part, on electric charge which significantly cuts down on carbon emissions.

  • Model range: PHEVs are a popular option for drivers, meaning there’s a plentiful range of plug-in hybrids to choose from.

Cons:

  • Dead weight: Once the battery charge has run out, you’re carrying around a heavy battery for the duration of your journey. This means your petrol or diesel won’t take you as far as it would in a traditional vehicle. If you’re a sole trader or run a small, local fleet, this may not be as big of an issue for you.


3. Biogas CNG

Biogas CNG is an exciting alternative fuel for vehicles. CNG stands for ‘compressed natural gas’, and it is predominantly made up of methane. Biogas CNG, on the other hand, comes from renewable energy sources, making it a more carbon-friendly option.

Pros:

  • Renewable: Biogas CNG is better for the environment as it is a renewable energy source that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels.

Cons:

  • Expensive upfront costs: There are few vehicles designed to run on Biogas CNG, which makes them a pricier vehicle choice.

  • Lack of infrastructure: In the UK, there are few stations where you can refuel your vehicle with Biogas CNG.

4. Biogas LNG

Biogas LNG is another renewable energy source for vehicles. More specifically, it is a renewable replacement for liquified natural gas (LNG) and is obtained from biogas CNG.

Pros:

  • Highly efficient: Biogas LNG is a highly efficient fuel, making your money go further.

  • Good for long-haul journeys: Unlike electric vehicles, you can refuel a Biogas LNG vehicle in a similar amount of time as it would take you to refuel a petrol or diesel alternative. Plus, it should take you further than an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle.

Cons:

  • Cost: Biogas LNG is generally more expensive than diesel. This is because it’s a newer fuel source and so the mass infrastructure required to lower costs is not fully established.
Steering wheel and dashboard of a vehicle.

5. HVO

HVO, which stands for Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil, is an excellent alternative fuel for vehicles. It’s a liquid diesel product made from 100% renewable raw materials, such as vegetable oils or animal fats, making it a great option for businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

Pros:

  • Environmentally-friendly: Not only is HVO a renewable energy source for vehicles, it also emits up to 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Easy to store: If stored correctly, you can store HVO for up to ten times longer than regular diesel without its quality deteriorating.

  • High flashpoint: HVO has a high flashpoint leading to improved safety, storage and handling.

  • No vehicle modification: If your vehicle has a diesel engine, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to modify it for HVO fuel.

Cons:

  • Access: HVO is still relatively new to the fuel market and, as a result, it’s harder to source compared with petrol and diesel. This could easily change as our reliance on petrol and diesel wanes over the coming years.

6. Biodiesel
Biodiesel is a practical alternative fuel source for diesel vehicles. It can be derived from a range of sources, including waste cooking oil, animal fats and rapeseed oil, and it is a carbon neutral energy source. In theory, biodiesel can be used to fuel many diesel engines, either as a straight replacement for regular diesel or blended with regular diesel. However, there are many vehicle manufacturers who are yet to approve the use of biodiesel as a direct replacement for diesel in their engines.

Pros:

  • Greener fuel: Biodiesel can be produced with organic waste products, which has benefits for the environment.

  • High flashpoint: The flashpoint for biodiesel is higher than diesel which makes it safer to transport and store.

  • Engine health: Biodiesel increases the lubricity of fuel. This lubricating effect can reduce wear and tear, improving overall engine health.

Cons:

  • Storage: Biodiesel can prove challenging to store. In temperatures too hot, biodiesel can develop mould. In temperatures too cold, biodiesel can convert to a gel-like consistency.

  • Less fuel efficient: Biodiesel engines are slightly less fuel efficient than diesel engines.

7. Hydrogen
Hydrogen is already being used as an alternative fuel source for vehicles - the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai NEXO are just two example models. The key components in a hydrogen-powered vehicle are the electric motor, hydrogen tank and fuel cell. Hydrogen mixes with oxygen in the fuel cell, and the chemical reaction provides energy to the electrical motor, turning the wheels of the vehicle. H2O is also a product of this reaction, which leaves the vehicle exhaust as water vapour.

Pros:

  • Environmentally friendly: Hydrogen vehicles are locally emission-free because the only exhaust gas is water vapour.

  • Quick charge: Hydrogen vehicles can typically refuel in less than ten or even five minutes. This is much faster compared to electric vehicles.

  • Quiet: Like an electric vehicle, a hydrogen vehicle has minimal engine noise, reducing noise pollution.

Cons:

  • Limited vehicle selection: Hydrogen cars are not hugely popular, and therefore the vehicle models you have to choose from are limited.

  • Difficult to charge: Because hydrogen cars aren’t widely used, it can be difficult to find a fuel station where you can recharge.
Lorry with orange shipping container in motion on the road.
Jarek Kilian/Shutterstock

8. Compressed Air

Compressed air vehicles (CAVs) require a compressed air tank to function. These tanks store compressed air at a high pressure which is released into the engine. Pressure generated from the expanding air in the engine drives the pistons. The most notable CAV is the Tata AirPod, which was a small prototype car developed in India.

Pros:

  • Light: CAVs require fewer internal parts than a petrol or diesel vehicle, plus the engine size can be reduced. As the engine is powered by air, it can be made with lighter materials, such as aluminium. This reduced weight can lower the upfront cost of the vehicle, reduce road damage and minimise maintenance costs.

  • Environmentally-friendly: Air is an abundant, renewable resource. The compressed air tanks are also easier to recycle than batteries.

  • Quick to refill at service stations: When refilling at an air service station, CAVs can be refilled in just a few minutes.

Cons:

  • Energy waste: There is a significant amount of energy wasted when operating a compressed air vehicle, reducing efficiency.

  • Lack of power: CAVs are not currently suitable for travelling at speed or long distances.


9. Ethanol
At present, petrol in the UK contains up to 5% bioethanol – this is known as E5. However, there are plans to introduce an E10 blend, containing 10% bioethanol. Most petrol vehicles can run on this blend without needing to modify any elements of the vehicle.

There are currently no vehicles (other than some motor sport cars) designed to run on 100% ethanol. This is why it’s blended with petrol. In theory, vehicles could run on pure ethanol, but it isn’t practical for burning in cold weather.

Pros:

  • Better for the planet: Blending a higher percentage of bioethanol with petrol is a practical next step for lower carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Accessibility: E10 blends should be readily available at most fuel stations, so you should find it easy to locate a garage.

Cons:

  • Compatibility: Older vehicles won’t be able to function using a higher ethanol blend, putting those with older vehicles at a disadvantage.

  • Reduced fuel economy: E10 is slightly less efficient than E5, which can make a difference if you’re covering a lot of miles on a regular basis.

10. LPG
As we mentioned earlier, LPG stands for liquified petroleum gas. It is a natural by-product of processing natural gas and refining oil and is used as a fuel source of its own. Many petrol vehicles can be converted to LPG vehicles by adding an LPG fuel tank.

Pros:

  • Cheap: The price you pay for LPG typically comes in significantly lower than petrol or diesel, minimising your running costs.

  • Greener fuel choice: Compared with petrol and diesel, LPG offers more environmental benefits; vehicles running on LPG emit less carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Cons:

  • Lack of availability: LPG is not a popular alternative fuel for vehicles in the UK, making it difficult to come by. Most stations don’t offer LPG because the demand isn’t there.

  • Cost of car conversion: Converting your vehicle to be compatible with LPG is likely to set you back at least £1000, a hefty up-front cost.

We hope this list of alternative fuels for vehicles will help you when deciding on the future of your vehicle or fleet! As the Government strives to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, it only makes sense that we start learning more about eco-friendly solutions for our businesses.

To keep up to date with industry developments and read more tips on managing your fleet, just take a look at our blog.

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